Back to search

FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Modeling Human Happiness

Alternative title: Modeller av det gode liv

Awarded: NOK 12.4 mill.

What do we mean by ‘happiness’? How do we become happy? How do you determine whether somebody is happy? Are there scientific methods of measuring it? In this project a group of researchers in ancient philosophy, philosophy of science and psychology join forces to answer these questions. Our aim is to develop new scientific models for happiness and empirical methods by which to measure it. We hope thereby also to develop knowledge of how to increase happiness, which can be used in political and social planning. An individualistic and subjectivistic understanding of happiness seems to restrict current research. Our core hypothesis is that ancient conceptions and modern scientific investigation together can shape a new and fruitful understanding of human happiness. We explore four theses taken from ancient Greek philosophy: (i) that happiness is social, (ii) that happiness is value-laden, (iii) that happiness is rooted in human nature, and (iv) that happiness is best conceived of as a dynamic activity over time. We consider how these theses were understood in antiquity: if happiness is social, how one should demarcate the relevant social group, which features of human nature (biological, psychological, rational, social) are most important, and which activities are particularly constitutive of happiness. We use the ancient answers to develop a new model for happiness as eudaimonia. As eudaimonia happiness is to be understood as an objective fulfilment of human needs and capacities over time, and not just as brief episodes of subjective pleasure. Our approach is fundamentally interdisciplinary. We apply methods from each of the three areas of research to provide unified answers: the systematic study of ancient theories about happiness, philosophical analysis of the empirical testibility of hypotheses about happiness, and empirical research into happiness.

ModHap is an interdisciplinary project that integrates insights from ancient philosophy, philosophy of science and psychology in order to develop new empirically testable notions of happiness. Our main objective is to develop new scientific models of happiness, which will provide vital knowledge about the sources of happiness, generate novel metrics for empirically measuring happiness, and lay the groundwork for innovative interventions aimed at improving and sustaining happiness. Our core hypothesis is that an integration of ancient conceptions and contemporary scientific investigations will generate novel models and understandings of human happiness. An overly individualistic and subjectivist modern perspective limits contemporary happiness research, and groundbreaking conceptual and methodological changes in the science of happiness will be made possible by exploring four ancient theses about the nature of happiness: that it is best understood (i) as fundamentally interpersonal or social, (ii) as inherently value-laden, (iii) as grounded in human nature and (iv) as a temporally extended dynamic activity. We will explore each thesis on three integrated levels: historically, conceptually and empirically. Each work package will be dedicated to exploring one of the ancient theses in order to construct new conceptual models that can be tested empirically. Our three-pronged approach encompasses (1) the systematic study of ancient theories of happiness using philological methods of interpretation and philosophical methods of argument reconstruction and conceptual analysis; (2) the use of insights and tools from philosophy of science to develop empirically testable models of happiness based on the ancient conceptions and to explore the methodological foundations of the study of happiness; and (3) empirical studies employing the newly developed concepts.

Funding scheme:

FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam